How to stop stressing over exam results

Exams are an inevitable and unavoidable part of a student’s life. However, what is more important than taking the exams is how students manage the results they get, especially if the results are not what they expected.

Negative results can bring about various thinking errors such as “dichotomous thinking” when students perceive things in black or white terms – it’s either a success or a failure. There is also “fortune telling” when students believe they know that the same negative results will happen again in future exams. Another type of thinking error is “catastrophizing” when students think the worst possible outcome will occur such as believing they will be unemployed their whole life from one failure in the exams.

To fix these kind of thoughts, students can engage in a process known as “cognitive restructuring” which can be used to fix any harmful thoughts and protect students against experiencing negative feelings. The technique calls for students to use a Thought Record Sheet to record and rank their thoughts and feelings over a particular day. This allows them to identify any thinking errors made and challenge the validity of such thoughts.

Challenging the validity of such thoughts helps students to remain realistic. The techniques also help to calm nerves ahead of results day, as well as help with any decision-making that has to be done once the results are in.

Ultimately, exams are not the be-all and end-all of life. It is important to impress this upon our students as well as to teach them how to manage negative thoughts and emotions they may feel when dealing with failure. Students need to learn how to see whatever results they receive positively and accept that life in general, is never black and white.

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